$1.5m to help with freedom camping

Gary Kircher.
Gary Kircher.
Southern councils will receive about $1.5 million from the Government to address freedom camping issues at ''hot spots'' in time for the coming summer.

A similar amount will go to councils on the West Coast, as the Government releases the findings of the Responsible Camping Working Group and backs projects to help manage freedom campers for the 2018-19 season.

The money is part of $8.5million taken from the Government's $25million Tourism Infrastructure Fund, which the Government announced last year to replace the previous Regional Mid-Sized Facilities Fund and the Tourism Growth Partnership.

The fund, for the development of tourism-related infrastructure such as car parks, freedom camping facilities, sewerage and water works and transport projects, has already given out $14.2million and will announce further grants in the next few weeks.

Southern mayors have welcomed the funding, Waitaki District Mayor Gary Kircher saying it would help ''get some solutions'', and Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan saying it was ''great'' to have central government support.

Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said the $8.5million would help put coping mechanisms in place before the coming peak season.

Other measures recommended by the working group - comprised of 10 local government, industry and central government agency members, including Mr Cadogan and Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Jim Boult - involved legislative and regulatory changes, and would be considered as part of a ''cross-government plan of action'', Mr Davis said.

As well as suggesting an education campaign for campers this summer, the working group's report recommends various legislative reviews of camping rules, including to ensure consistency in camping rules across the country, by establishing four ''camping zones'', to be defined nationally and applied locally.

The report said the Central Otago, Queenstown Lakes and Mackenzie districts were among the country's ''hot spots'' for freedom camping and had issues ''of such significance they had the potential to have a national impact on the reputation of responsible camping in New Zealand''.

The group wanted to protect ''the traditional Kiwi way of camping'' in New Zealand, but said pressure from increasing numbers of freedom campers was affecting ''the social licence of tourism to operate'' and causing ''displacement'' in some areas, where ''communities feel unable to use their local spaces due to the volume of campers''.

The report recommends considering instant fines for those who break the rules, and also suggests using technology such as reports from smartphone data to help manage freedom camping.

pam.jones@odt.co.nz

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